Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What is Christian Contentment?

Recently I read The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs with some ladies from my church.  The inspiration for this series is largely from that book, and most of these writings are paraphrased or summarized from Burrough's writing in this book.

"I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low and how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:11-13

'Family Christian Stores -- Devoted Duck -- Strength (Philippians 4:13)' photo (c) 2012, Joshua Smith - license:
"I can do all things through him who strengthens me."  This is a beautiful verse, but what does it mean?  Unfortunately this verse is all too commonly taken out of context, as Christians wave it around and print it on t-shirts to show that they can run a marathon or pass their finals or whatever because Jesus gives them strength.  This isn't Paul's intention with writing this at all.

The context of his writing is dealing with hardship and trials in life.  And Paul's trials were more difficult than a marathon, and much harder than the average American Christian will ever face:  
 "Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." (2 Corinthians 11:24-27 ESV)
But through all of this, he was content.  How? Because he had learned to do all things through him who strengthened him.  This kind of settled state of heart is not possible apart from the grace of God.

What does this kind of contentment look like in the Christian life? Burroughs defines contentment like this:  "Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition" (p. 19).  There are a few things I will point out from this definition.

*It is an inward thing.  Sometimes I am able to keep my mouth from grumbling, because I know that complaining is a sin.  But is my heart content?  Or am I filled with grumbling, bitterness and discontent, though I keep peace outwardly?  This inward malcontent is as evil as outward complaining.

*It is quiet.  This does not exclude making a prayer to God about our burdens, or groaning in the spirit of the Psalmist.  But a quiet heart is sedate and still before the Lord, which is a result of trust in Him.

*It freely submits to God's work.  Have you ever been to a chiropractor? If so, you have probably felt that what the chiro is doing during an adjustment is not natural, potentially painful.  The hardest thing for me is to get my neck adjusted.  Every fiber in my body says that I should tense up and not allow my head to be whipped to the side while my neck crackles up and down my spine.  But I have to force myself to relax, trusting that the chiropractor isn't going to break my neck (and guess what, he never does!), and is actually helping me.

This is what it is like to freely submit to God.  We trust that he is doing good, even when in our eyes, what he is doing seems scary or unwise.  A heart that trusts like this relaxes and freely submits to his work.

*It delights in God's work.  Many times we can look back and praise God for the good he wrought in a past hardship.  But the truly contented heart praises God for what he is doing in a current hardship, even if there is no way to see the good he is bringing out of it at the moment.  Burroughs puts it this way, "The height of this art of contentment to come to this pitch and to be able to say, 'Well, my condition and afflictions are so and so, and very grievous and sore; yet, through God's mercy, I am in a good condition, and the hand of God is good upon me notwithstanding" (p. 34).

He sums it up this way: "Whatever particular afflictions God may place us in, we must be content with them" (p. 37).

What are your current afflictions?  Is your heart at peace or do you grumble about them?  Do you delight in God's work in your life in this trial?  Is your heart still before God in this trial?  Take time to confess and repent of any sin that God reveals in this, and ask him to give you a heart of deep contentment, which is only possible by his grace.

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